No matter where you stand on the impact of global warming, you can’t discount the shift in thoughts and actions to protecting the environment, addressing climate change, and pursuing sustainability. President Joe Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act on August 16, 2022, which allocates more than $300B to be invested in energy and climate reform. Not only are consumers giving more consideration to their environmental impact before making a purchase, but scientists across the globe are developing ways to improve air and drinking water quality, reduce carbon emissions, and so much more.
Research laboratories have had some significant breakthroughs in 2022 that may one day lead to a greener and cleaner planet. What follows are some prime examples.
Greener fertilizer and carbon-free fuels
A team at Caltech published a paper in the August 2022 issue of the journal Nature that outlines a new process to reduce inefficiency in nitrogen fixation, the chemical process of taking nitrogen from the atmosphere and turning it into ammonia that can be used as fertilizer for food crops. By using bacteria in the soil, this group of scientists has developed a nitrogen-fixation process that is easier to conduct and more environmentally friendly than currently used energy-intensive processes.
Although not yet practical in the real world, it would mean that fertilizer could be produced through wind or solar power, which makes it a global option for countries without reliable electrical power sources. Ammonia produced using this new method could also be used as a vehicle fuel that would not produce any climate-changing carbon dioxide.1
Understanding photosynthesis for environmental protection
In June 2022, LabLynx published a blog article by writer Andria Kennedy on the rise of harmful algae blooms. The article illustrated the devastation caused by algae blooms (cyanobacteria) in Toledo, Ohio in 2014, which saw people being prohibited for three days from not only drinking water, but bathing, showering, or merely washing their hands. And again, in 2019, water testing labs watched a bloom of over 620 miles impact Lake Erie, from Toledo to Sandusky.
Michigan State University researchers have revealed in the same August 2022 issue of Nature new insights into a biological structure used by cyanobacteria for photosynthesis. Understanding how this bacterium collects the sun’s energy may lead to advances on how to attack the blooms in the future and protect the earth’s drinking water. The insights could also help researchers “develop artificial photosynthetic systems for renewable energy and enlist microbes in sustainable manufacturing that start with the raw materials of carbon dioxide and sunlight.”2
Superheated steam capable of powering a power station
An Australian research lab has developed a way to turn hydrogen and oxygen into superheated steam, which has the potential to convert a coal-burning power plant’s generator to run on green hydrogen. The new technology has implications for water-treatment plants, brewers, dairy plants, and many others.
The world won’t have to wait decades to see the results of this new technology. Mars Food Australia is awaiting regulatory approval but hopes to utilize green hydrogen in one of its local factories in 2023. Bill Heague, general manager of Mars Food Australia, said, “Thermal energy is crucial to the business of cooking food, and this technology has the capability to create limitless heat without any combustion and zero emissions.”3
Revelation could make aniline production more environmentally friendly
Industrial chemical plants create anilines, chemicals used in manufacturing dyes, plastics, insulations, and some pharmaceutical products. The current process is far from energy-efficient and creates by-products that are harmful to the environment. However, researchers from the University of Glasgow, in Scotland, have created a new method of creating anilines.
In its simplest form, the new process uses electrolysis, passing an electrical current through water, reducing the likelihood of unwanted, damaging by-products. Dr. Mark Symes, senior lecturer at the University of Glasgow’s School of Chemistry said this new technique “could go a long way towards making the $11B aniline production industry more environmentally friendly.”4
Destruction of “forever chemicals”
Northwestern University chemists have made significant advancements in the breakdown of per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also called “forever chemicals” because of their resistance to most biological and chemical degradation methods.5 PFAS are found in non-stick cookware and other textiles and pose a significant threat from landfills, where they find their way into wastewater treatment plants and ultimately into our drinking water.
While the discovery doesn’t solve the problem of the disposal of PFAS, it is a step in the right direction, considering the EPA’s intention to increase the regulation of these chemicals under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
Reducing cattle burps means reducing greenhouse gas
You don’t need university backing or a team of international scientists to make a breakthrough in the lab that can have a positive impact on the environment. Luke Gardner, an aquaculture scientist at the Moss Landing Marine Lab in Carmel Valley, California, is working to identify native seaweeds that can be combined with cattle feed to reduce the amount of methane a cow burps.
A single cow can burp more than 200 pounds of methane gas a year. Methane is a greenhouse gas 25 times stronger than carbon dioxide, and the state of California alone has over 2.4 million cows.6
LabLynx supports environmental labs
LabLynx ELab LIMS software is currently used in a variety of environmental labs, from water quality and wastewater facilities to soil testing and environmental monitoring stations. The ELab LIMS allows labs to set up regularly occurring schedules for collection events, barcode tracking on all samples, container type tracking, and quality control charts and reports.